Our Overcentralized Federal Government

Our Overcentralized Federal Government

In the winter Olympics, the Czech Republic squared off in the medal round against one-time partner Slovakia. Nearby, restive Russian provinces such as Chechnya hope for independence. Later this year, Scotland will vote on whether to leave Great Britain. All around the globe, countries are getting smaller.

They're spending less, too. France announced "unprecedented" spending cuts in its 2014 budget. Britain has been reducing spending for several years, and plans to slash about $40 billion more. Canada has cut its way to a budget surplus.

However, here in the United States, the CBO predicts our 2014 deficit will be $514 billion. That's down from $680 billion last year, and more than $1 trillion in each of the previous four years. But that's far from austerity.

The 2014 deficit is double the 2006 deficit, and back then we were fighting two wars. The U.S. government has accepted record-sized deficits as a permanent feature, creating a river of red ink.

Not surprisingly, our big-spending government is also centralizing power in a number of ways. The Founders drafted a Constitution that created a central government, but one with carefully limited powers. The genius of that approach was that it left states and individuals generally free to innovate.

Those days are gone. The federal government exercises control over more and more aspects of our everyday life. Examples abound.

Under Obamacare, Washington will determine exactly what health procedures your insurance must cover. Even if you're a single man, you'll pay for maternity coverage.

Wondering where your free checking account went? Dodd-Frank regulations caused many banks to reduce services and increase fees.

It's even impossible to turn on a light bulb or go to the bathroom without meeting centralized, bureaucratic prescriptions.

There's a logic to all this.

More than a century ago, Progressives insisted that Americans needed to be protected from big corporations that had the power to harm individuals. Barack Obama is a direct descendent of Woodrow Wilson and his dream of a strong central government.

But big companies, because they're always under pressure from competitors in a marketplace, will eventually go away. Early Progressives railed against Standard Oil, Carnegie Steel, and the New York Central railroad. Each was long ago broken up, sold, or run out of business. Today's biggest retailer, Walmart, will eventually go the way of Sears: huge (and growing) a century ago, an afterthought today.

Free citizens aren't truly self-governing when the federal government can track phone calls, slow-walk applications for conservative groups to organize, and even consider placing observers in local newsrooms to make certain citizens are properly informed. It's all too much.

If voters in Pennsylvania opt for a different set of fracking laws than those in New York do, that's fine. If California wants to drown in red tape while Texas wants to create jobs, have at it. Under a properly federalist system, Americans can decide where and how they want to live and be governed.

So, instead of further centralizing authority, let's smash up bureaucratic stovepipes and give citizens more say in their daily lives. Instead of endlessly increasing our federal deficits, let's reduce spending. True progress requires an end to Progressivism.

Rich Tucker is a senior writer in the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation.

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